Small is Big

In August four things happened  in the space of a week, and they had a common theme.  


I enjoyed the eclipse, even if it was not as dark as I had anticipated it would be where we were vacationing near Cambridge, MD,  but the hype that preceded it was over the top.   Front page coverage in the newspapers every day for two weeks prior and traffic jams in South Carolina three days before the event made no sense to me in terms of priorities and practicalities. 


Secondly our extended family went on a two mile walk to a waterfall and the focus of the children in particular was on the destination with little awareness of the myriad of attractions alongside the path, nor did the adults draw attention to them.  


Thirdly, the thirty and forty year olds chose to rent a power boat large enough to hold 10 passengers which could  race up the bay.   My choice was a two seater kayak so that a grandchild could sit in front as we paddled along the shore line looking for birdlife and other items of fascination. 


And finally, a breakfast discussion with a good friend soon after our return, in which she said she receives between 40 and 70 e-mails at work every day, and others get as many as 100. 


The theme is that we are so focused on the big things that it is easy to ignore the smaller but equally compelling things along the way.  The eclipse was dramatic yet how often do we appreciate the stars on a clear night?   Waterfalls whet more than the appetite yet they are surrounded by amazing rock formations covered with insects and surrounded by beautiful wild flowers, some no bigger than a dime but ever so elegant on close inspection.  Power boats drive the wind through one’s hair but the speed frightens the birds, makes it difficult to observe anything in the water, and the shoreline is too far off to see any detail.  And 100 e-mails a day means there is little time for earnest thought or a profound response; it is too superficial, too quick.  To spend five minutes on each of a hundred e-mails would take more than an 8 hour work day, so clearly we cannot and do not do it.  And this does not include all the other materials available via cyberspace; according to one TV analyst last week, 400 hours of content are added to Facebook every sixty seconds. 


The pressures imposed on younger generations by advertising are, to me, unfathomable;  everything has to be bigger, quicker, faster,  sleeker, newer.  Advertising  by its very nature makes us feel inadequate and incomplete based on our material possessions; 2.0 is good until the 2.1 version comes out, Playstation 4 until Playstation 5 is produced,  a new version of the I-Phone every year is seen as an essential up-grade ... we might label this the Age of Perpetual Discontent.  Meanwhile the news media focuses on the big, the dramatic,    Hurricane Harvey fills our screens until Irma hits Florida, and the people of Texas are left behind.  Floridians have our attention and sympathy only until the next crisis demands our attention. 


The sports pages are filled with the latest signings invariably involving multi-million dollars deals, and the entertainment pages are studded with ‘stars’ on red carpets in gowns valued in the thousands of dollars. Yet if we read the small print we find that their lives are no more happy than our own; indeed the reverse may be true if only we can identify what truly brings us contentment. 


It is difficult to imagine the pressures faced by a teen standing on a street corner in a major city while his family is struggling honestly to provide the  basics of life, and he sees an entertainer or sports figure or drug pusher go past in a flashy car dressed up to the nines.  It is difficult not to judge others solely in terms of ostentatious displays of wealth and to feel inadequate by comparison, to the point of being willing to do almost anything to climb those appealing but false heights.  


I have been fortunate in always having a job when I needed one, having sufficient funds to pay for the basics, and having an advantageous skin color and ethnicity.  Nor have I felt envious of those who have more which was perhaps more easy in a country without television and a society where virtually everyone was middle class.  And I discovered other ways of being in this world that did not require money.   Yet I wonder how affluence impacts my grandchildren.  In the 1970’s, attending a conference on  teens and drugs, a presenter observed that that generation could no longer be scared into good choices, referring to photos of blackened lungs scarred by smoking tobacco, or drug takers withered and anemic and literally dead to the world. The only insurance policy of any value that parents and teachers (and perhaps grandparents) could provide was the ability to say no and to walk away because, she argued, when those children first come into contact with drugs or alcohol or promiscuous sex (yes, that’s what we called it)  with all the accompanying peer pressure, we, the parents and teachers, will not be there to guide or rescue them. 


While there is certainly a big picture, beekeeping is essentially about the small stuff. I suspect that one of the difficulties facing new beekeepers is the ability to really see at the micro level, to look at a frame of bees and absorb the phenomenal detail that it provides with hierarchies of levels of information.  And then being able to assimilate, categorize, analyze and evaluate that data (what Benjamin Bloom in 1956 called Higher Order Thinking Skills) and make the appropriate decisions. 


In his book, “Feathers : The Evolution of a Natural Miracle,” Thor Hanson distinguishes between bird watching and bird identification. Too often we do the latter whereas the true wonder of birding, he suggests, “lies in the watching, soaking up the fine details of plumage, behavior and habitat.  Even common birds do uncommon things, and every sighting is worth more that a glance and a tick on a checklist.”                                   


So yes, eclipses and waterfalls and power boats and e-mails are important, but never at the expense of the smaller stuff - small in size perhaps, and too easily not seen, but a never-ending source of joy and wonder if one chooses to look.  That is what the ‘girls’ offer me - not only an insight into a beautiful world that is omnipresent, vital to our continued existence, but a touchstone to combat the mass exposure to the dramatic, the grand and, all too often, the superficial.  Even common bees do uncommon things, and they put into context much of what we otherwise take for granted. 




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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my